New research reveals the severity and frequency of significant wind events

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Tracking and predicting severe wind events is a current challenge for meteorologists and researchers.

“In the past, we wouldn’t know that wind events were happening,” says Gerald Cheng, Warning Preparedness Meteorologist at Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC). “People have to report them.”

That is why ECCC meteorologists now watch social media for storm activity, in addition to sending out alerts. “When we see that the damage is extensive, we will survey the area,” says Cheng.

ECCC also partners with Western University’s Northern Tornado Project to monitor and capture tornados and downburst activity.

“In 2017, our first year of looking for tornados in forested areas of Ontario and Quebec, we saw a record-breaking tornado outbreak,” says David Sills, a doctor from Western University’s Northern Tornado Project (NTP). “That is because we were looking for them.”

Current NTP findings

The NTP found that tornadoes are being spotted later in the season, but the frequency of tornadoes is not increasing over time.

They are also comparing data from 1980 to 1990 and from 1991 to 2020 and are working on a new 30-year climate projection. Surprisingly, they found more severe wind activity in eastern and southern Quebec, not the prairies, where they expected to see it. The next dataset will determine if this is an actual trend or an anomaly.

In the meantime, the NTP is relying on satellite technology to track tornadoes and downbursts. “If there is damage, it pops up pretty quickly,” says Sills. “We have found tornados that would’ve otherwise been lost.”

How the ECCC monitors severe wind activity

The ECCC primarily uses radar technology to track weather patterns, but detecting severe wind activity continues to be difficult as the technology evolves.

To overcome these challenges, ECCC has put in 33 new radars since 2017, eight of which are in Ontario. These radars cover most of the province until the Fort Severn area. “If we to know if these events are on the rise, we will need a complete data set,” says Cheng.

Even with these advancements, predicting weather remains a challenge. “There’s a limit to the amount of lead time in predicting storms,” says Cheng. “Alerts are not 100 per cent accurate. People need to know the signs of severe weather.”

How can people prepare?

Public education is just as crucial as the alert system. There will always be a possibility of severe weather, so “people should check the forecast before going outside and be situationally aware when they are outdoors,” says Cheng.

ECCC recommends going to your basement when you are at home. If you are outside, stay low, protect your core, and seek shelter immediately.

And, when it comes to protecting cottages, Sills acknowledges a significant challenge. “Trees protect cottages from wind damage, but once in a while, a dead or decaying tree might also fall and cause damage,” he says.

Cottages near the shore are at an even greater risk. “There’s nothing to protect them from the winds coming across the lake. So, people should stormproof their shore,” Sills recommends.

Help the NTP and ECCC help Canadians. Report any severe wind damage by visiting the NTP website.

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